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Wendy Reuer, Published December 02 2013

West Fargo approves first reading of ordinance requiring adult entertainers to be licensed

WEST FARGO –Performers looking to do a striptease here will soon have to get a license first.

The City Commission unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance Monday night that will require adult entertainers and the businesses that employ them to be licensed by the city. That includes performers of adult entertainment and escort services.

City Attorney John Shockley said the ordinance was suggested by West Fargo police after officers reported investigations of crimes such as prostitution, theft and drug crimes committed under the guise of advertisements for adult entertainers on places like the online classified site “Backpages.com.”

Advertisements for “escort services” have led police in some areas to find exploitation of minors.

Police Chief Arland Rasmussen said the ordinance is preemptive, not the result of increased prostitution arrests in the city.

“It’s just an ongoing thing,” Rasmussen said. “We do get some calls about solicitation and the Backpages (ads). It’s time to set some rules so we don’t have future problems.”

The ordinance was modeled after a similar law passed by Moorhead in January. West Fargo Assistant Police Chief Mike Reitan said departments want to have similar ordinances in the metro area.

“Then, as we work together in the area, we’re all operating on the same page,” Reitan said.

The ordinance states that the entertainment license is valid for one year, expiring on Dec. 31.

The City Commission would be responsible for setting the license fee. Moorhead charges a $250 licensing fee, and failure to register is a misdemeanor.

To qualify for a license, the applicant must be over age 18 and pass a criminal background check by the police.

Applicants must list their full legal name or business name, include current address and phone numbers, and list a full description of what services will be provided.

If approved, adult entertainers will be required to carry an identification card anytime they perform.

Reitan said the ordinance will be sent to the North Dakota attorney general to ensure the language is in accordance with the state’s Century Code.

A statute reserves regulation of obscenity to the state. It states, “No political subdivision shall enact new, or enforce existing, ordinances or resolutions regulating or prohibiting the dissemination of obscene materials, or controlling obscene performances.”

If approved by the attorney general, West Fargo’s ordinance will be brought back before the City Commission for a second reading and final approval.

Fargo has not passed a similar law, but Police Chief Keith Ternes has been studying it. He said in January that a city ordinance won’t come until state law is changed.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530